College and Career Readiness with CIS

Post-Secondary College and Career Support Opens Doors for CIS Students

Research shows that access to high quality college and career pathways or college and career “readiness” is a key indicator of upward economic mobility in Charlotte. One of the ways that we address this at Communities In Schools of Charlotte-Mecklenburg is through our TRiO/Talent Search program and our Educational and Career Coaching (ECC) program, which together provide career exploration and college admissions support services to approximately 2,500 students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg high schools each year.

TRiOOur TRiO/Talent Search program is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Annually, more than 70% of students in TRiO/Talent Search at CIS-Charlotte enroll in post-secondary institutions after they graduate high school.  This is attributed to the hands-on approach that our team provides to students – from assistance with understanding financial aid, college tours, and application essay submission, to student enrollment, SAT/ACT preparation, and next steps after college applications are submitted. Under the leadership of TRiO program director Keith Cartwright, students learn how to be competitive once they leave high school and are provided with an ongoing support system to aid their success after graduation.

Keith Cartwright

“We continually exceed expectations,” Cartwright said. “Federal standards require only three percent of program participants to be enrolled in rigorous programs such as advanced placement (AP) or Honors courses, but our team remains above average with 30% of our students enrolled in such programs.”

Two-thirds of the students served by the TRiO/Talent Search are first generation, would-be college students, and support is provided to guide families through each step of the process to ensure a smooth transition.  While the Talent Search team focuses on college admission, the team recognizes that the traditional four-year university path is not for everyone, and they work with students to identify a career field that suits them. Participants prepare for post-secondary education through workshops and events that focus on career exploration, college preparation, and social and cultural development. Graduates continue to receive support from Talent Search counselors through their first semester of college.

“The college application process is new for many of the families, and we also have students who explore non-collegiate career options such as the military and trade professionals, so we strive to be as creative as possible,” Cartwright said. “During the pandemic when we couldn’t meet in-person, we arranged  Zoom calls with professionals who shared about their career and what it took to get there. Another example, prior to COVID, is when we took students to Six Flags amusement park while on a college tour trip. We turned it into a learning opportunity by asking one of the park’s engineers to give them the tour of the park. They were having fun while also being exposed to the broad field of engineering and its many career possibilities and applications,” added Cartwright.

Renee’ Leak

Another gateway for students in CIS to receive support in their post-secondary planning is through our Educational and Career Coaching (ECC) program, which supports students as they go through the college application process. This team thrives under the leadership of Renee’ Leak, Director of Program Operations-Educational Career Coach team. Unlike the TRiO/Talent Search program, students are not required to be first-generation college applicants, opening doors for a larger pool of students to receive much-needed resources and guidance. Additionally, ECC counselors address students’ social and emotional development to ensure that students receive the support – regardless of how well they perform in school. 

“ECC coaches ensure that the applicant’s family understands the full picture of what it means for their child to attend college – from filing taxes, applying for financial aid, determining residency, and being prepared for hidden costs of attending college,” said Leak. Leak added that her team is also exploring opportunities to expose students to international careers by encouraging them to adopt a global focus.

Kennadii White

These CIS programs can be life-changing for students and shift the trajectory of their paths. For former students like Kennadii White, now a junior at North Carolina A&T University, her participation in CIS provided her with the support she needed and the reassurance that she would not have to tackle post-secondary life alone.

“High school is a journey of many new things and four years to discover just a little about who you are,” White said. “The foundation of your support system has to be strong when you are in difficult times. CIS gave me more than counseling and guidance. They gave me family! After high school, they are still here, making me better in many ways. I’m thankful for the love and guidance being poured into me because there’s nothing like CIS family.”